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Three Things to Know: It’s just one game, but new-look Cavaliers impress

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) New-look Cavaliers impress, blow-out Celtics in first game.
Things looked different — Cleveland actually tried on defense, for one. George Hill was solid defending pick-and-rolls creating turnovers with his length, plus made the extra rotation — and when he did so did J.R. Smith. And LeBron James. The Cavaliers blitzed Kyrie Irving at times, but what was impressive is the guys rotating behind that blitz. All-season long that had been lacking in Cleveland and it led them to have the second-worst defense in the NBA, but on Sunday afternoon in Boston the effort was there.

Combine that with a near triple-double from LeBron James, and 17 from Jordan Clarkson, and you got a Cleveland rout of Boston in the first game for the new-look Cavaliers.

Here is the obligatory “don’t read too much into one game” disclaimer. I want to see what Cleveland looks like after some practices during the All-Star break, and a couple of weeks of games together — and when teams get some scouting reports on them and game plan a little.

But for one game, the Cavaliers where impressive. And it wasn’t just the defense. The Cavaliers dropped 64 points in the first half on the best defense in the NBA this season, then put the game away with an 11-0 fourth-quarter run. It was such an easy win LeBron sat the fourth quarter, a rarity this season. Hill had 12 points and ran the pick-and-roll with LeBron like a veteran (better than LeBron and Isaiah Thomas ever did), Nance brought energy, and the entire thing fit.

Here’s the thing that most should worry the rest of the East — LeBron looked like he was having fun again. He was energized. And an energized and smiling LeBron is a force of nature.

2) Paul Pierce gets his jersey retired by Celtics. After that game — one a lot of Boston fans would have left early had it not been for this — Paul Pierce’s number 34 jersey was retired by the Celtics. Deservedly so. He is the greatest Celtics since the Bird era, and he helped bring another banner to Boston. Check out the highlights here (and if you want to see the entire hour ceremony, follow this link).

3) Utah routs Trail Blazers for a ninth straight win, Utah back in the playoff mix. Rudy Gobert is back and the Jazz defense is stifling, Ricky Rubio has found his comfort level in Quin Snyder’s offense (although he was out Sunday), Donovan Mitchell looks like the Rookie of the Year, and the Utah Jazz are back.

Sunday that was because of Joe Ingles, who dropped a career-high 24 points, then the rookie Mitchell knocking down his final three shots and a few free throws to end the game and cap off a 27-point night. The Jazz opened the second half on a 22-5 run and won the third 38-19 to give them a lead that Damian Lillard (39 points) could not make up. For Utah, it was a good sign that just-acquired Jae Crowder looked comfortable scoring 15 points and going 3-of-7 from three (he had started to find his shot near the end in Cleveland).

This was a huge win in the standings.

Written off a few weeks back, Utah went into Portland Sunday and beat the Trail Blazers handily 115-96. The win improves the Jazz to 28-28 and has them just 1.5 points out of the playoffs in the West — there are now only 2.5 games separating six-seed Portland and 10-seed Utah. The bottom of the West is going to be the race to watch — fivethirtyeight.com has Utah with an 89 percent chance of climbing into and making the playoffs (with the Nuggets and Trail Blazers grabbing the other two spots at 64 percent, which would leave the Clippers and Pelicans on the outside looking in).

Another LeBron James mural vandalized in Los Angeles

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Most of Los Angeles — and the vast majority of Lakers fans — are fired up that LeBron James is coming to Los Angeles. They see a return to glory for the franchise (well, once they get the rest of the roster right… sorry Lance Stephenson).

However, there is a segment — particularly the die-hard Kobe fans — who are having trouble assimilating to the new reality.

So when an artist did a LeBron James mural near Venice in Los Angeles recently — a really well-done tribute — it was quickly vandalized. Then eventually covered up.

This week another artist did another impressive LeBron/Lakers mural — this one with LeBron looking up at the Lakers’ legends — and once again, it was vandalized.

I’m not shocked by any of this, but it is depressing. If you’re vandalizing art, you are a cowardly buffoon.

There’s no way to really know the motivation behind the second attack, although the smart money is on it being the same as the first one — a few people think they are protecting the Lakers’ brand by not welcoming the best player on the planet to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years. It’s incredibly flawed logic, but frankly flawed logic has become trendy in recent years, it can get you elected to all kinds of offices.

If you can’t embrace LeBron joining the team, I’m not sure how you could call yourself a Lakers fan. But to take that another step and deface a mural is another level of idiocy.

AP Source: Thunder trading Dakari Johnson to Orlando

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder are trading reserve center Dakari Johnson to the Orlando Magic.

A person with knowledge of the details confirmed the move to The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Yahoo Sports, which first reported the deal, said Oklahoma City will get guard Rodney Purvis in the deal. Purvis averaged 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 16 appearances for the Magic last season. The Orlando Sentinel said the Thunder also sent cash to the Magic.

Johnson played 31 games last season for the Thunder with six starts. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. The 7-footer averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 10 games for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, last season.

Center Alex Len reportedly reaches contract deal with Atlanta

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Five years ago, the Phoenix Suns had just drafted Alex Len at No. 5 overall and thought he would be the big man in the middle the team would build around. It didn’t work out that way, he never averaged double figures in either scoring or rebounding for a season. While Len has said he thought he was not used correctly, and there has been plenty of change and inconsistency in Phoenix, he never grabbed hold of the top job, either.

When the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 last June, there was no chance they were bringing back Len next season. The unrestricted free agent is headed to Atlanta instead, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent center Alex Len has agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Len received interest from several teams in recent days before finalizing an agreement with the Hawks on Saturday.

Len is not going to space the floor, 73 percent of his shots came at the rim last season, but he’s become an efficient finisher there. He is good as a roll man, will work off the ball, and can post guys up on offense. He’s also strong on the offensive glass and gets points via putbacks. His game is not that of a modern NBA center, but he’s become efficient at what he does.

Len is going to have to earn his minutes in the ATL, rebuilding team or not there is some quality along the front line. John Collins, who made the All-Rookie team last season and was one of the standouts of Summer League, will start up front, possibly at the four with Dewayne Dedmon at the five. The just-drafted Omari Spellman showed potential at Summer League and could be the backup four, which means Len gets the backup center minutes.

Len is getting his new chance on a team that can give him some run, we’ll see if a change of scenery is what he needed.

Gordon Hayward posts new workout video, he is moving pretty well

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Player workout videos on Instagram are a lot like how your life (or, your parent’s life) appears on Facebook — everyone looks their best, is always having fun and doing something interesting, and the daily grime of life has been scrubbed away.

That said, Boston’s Gordon Hayward looks good — he seems to be moving very well — in this latest workout video he posted.

It’s a good sign to see Hayward moving like that in July, months before that reconstructed ankle needs to be put to the test on the NBA hardwood.

With Hayward and Kyrie Irving healthy, the Celtics start the season as the favorites in the East — but Toronto is a sudden, serious challenger if Kawhi Leonard is all the way back and healthy. Philadelphia is talented and in that mix as well if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can take strides forward with their game.

The top of the East is going to be very interesting next season.